The 2014 women’s NCAA Division I swimming & diving championships kick off on Thursday morning in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the University Aquatics Center.
This meet won’t have the same number of contenders for the team title as the men’s meet in a week in Austin will, but the battle at the top between Cal and Georgia should be one for the ages, and the star-power at this meet is unmatched at the college level.
Thursday will feature the 200 free relay, the 500 free, the 200 IM, the 50 free, 1 meter diving, and the 400 medley relay, with both prelims and final of each on Thursday morning and evening, respectively.
Women’s 200 Free Relay – prelims
The first race of any championship meet is always full of intrigue, because it’s the first taste of what’s going to happen. This 200 free relay, though, was especially noteworthy.
For starters, the top 15 teams all beat their seed times. After the letdown in Indy last year at the women’s meet, that’s a great start and shows that it’s time for a fast one in Minneapolis.
More significantly, there’s nobody running away from this meet early. Stanford and Georgia were both 1:26.96′s to tie for the top seed; the Cardinal got all four splits under 22 seconds aside from anchor Katie Olsen (22.05 as a breaststroker isn’t bad). That includes a 21.26 from Felicia Lee, who is about to wow a lot of people that forgot about her after being a top 5 recruit coming out of high school.
Georgia didn’t have any huge splits like Lee’s, but they did have four girls go between 21.5 and 21.9, including a 21.66 leadoff from freshman Olivia Smoliga which is just as good.
The A&M women, as we’ve been talking about all year, has suddenly become spectacular in the free relays just a few years removed from being frankly terrible. And now they’re the 3rd seed in 1:27.19, with Lili Ibanez, Breeja Larson, and Erica Dittmer all splitting right at 21.6′s on the three rolling legs.
Tennessee was 4th in 1:27.22, well over a second ahead of their time from SEC’s; Cal was 5th in 1:27.49 with Osman splitting 21.47 on their anchor. She’s one of two keys for Cal to take this title, and so far she’s sharp.
Arizona was 6th with a 21.54 leadoff from senior Margo Geer, which shows that even as the 50 free field has gotten faster this year, she’s ready to defend.
Wisconsin was 7th in 1:27.76 (Ivy Martin led off in 21.81), and USC was 8th in 1:27.87 (with a 21.63 leadoff from Kasey Carlson).
The B-finalists will be: NC State (1:28.33), Florida (1:28.41), Auburn (1:28.43), Minnesota (1:28.63), Texas (1:28.69), Virginia (1:28.97) and UCLA (1:29.16) for certain. There will, however, be a swimoff to settle a tie for 16th between Indiana (who had a 21.95 from Kaitlyn Flederbach) and San Diego State, who matched at 1:29.56.
Ohio State almost prevented that tie; their touch time would have put them 16th, but they were DQ’ed.
update: San Diego State won the swim off.
Women’s 500 free – prelims
The Georgia women handled business in the women’s 500 free prelims. In addition to taking 3 of the top 4 spots overall, they also got two swimmers into the B final for a total of five finalists overall in what is one of their big events.
Brittany MacLean took the top seed in 4:35.08, with Shannon Vreeland 3rd in 4:35.89 and Amber McDermott 4th in 4:35.93.
In between them is Cal’s Missy Franklin with a 4:35.62. She was about two seconds ahead of the field at the 300, a second-and-a-half at the 400, and then either backed way off or died in the last 100 yards (she swam next to McDermott, who made up a lot of ground at the end). But Franklin should still be feared in this final based on that last 100.
Cal also put a swimmer, Melanie Klaren, into the B final with a 4:40.35 for 15th; Catherine Breed got bumped out by two-tenths and is 17th. They both dropped time, but Cal needs bigger drops to get into this team battle with Georgia.
Georgia’s two in the B-final are Jordan Mattern (4:39.78 – 12th) and Rachel Zilinskas (4:40.23). Those are both right around their personal bests, but they held their finals spots, which is what Georgia really needs at this point.
Disappointingly sliding was Virginia freshman Leah Smith, the top seed overall coming in. She added 5 seconds from ACC’s and placed 11th in 4:39.47.
The rest of the A-final included Indiana’s Lindsay Vrooman (4:36.42), Minnesota’s Keira Janzen (4:36.48), Arizona’s Bonnie Brandon (4:36.73), and Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry (4:37.01.
North Carolina’s Stephanie Peacock is 9th and in the B-final as well in 4:38.33.
Women’s 200 IM – prelims
Georgia’s Melanie Margalis is expected to be one of the senior stars of this NCAA Championship, and while she didn’t match her lofty top seed yet, she did take the top seed of the morning heats in 1:54.15.
That puts her ahead of a field stacked with U.S. National Teamers – in fact, the top 6 of this event are all U.S. National Teamers. Stanford’s Maya DiRado is 2nd in 1:54.20, Cal’s Liz Pelton is 3rd in 1:54.87, Notre Dame’s Emma Reaney is 4th in 1:55.01, Stanford’s Felicia Lee is 5th in 1:55.57, and Cal’s Celina Li is 6th in 1;56.01.
Of all of those 6, only Stanford’s Lee swam faster than her seed time, but with the lineup of veterans in this field, don’t be surprised if they all they all drop in finals. That should make for an intense race.
The two to round out this A-final aren’t eligible for the U.S. National Team: Michigan’s Marni Oldershaw was a 1:56.18 (she’s Canadian), and USC’s Stina Gardell was a 1:56.29 (she’s Swedish).
The B final will include San Diego State’s Mikaela Macklin as the 12th seed in 1:57.07, tied with Texas’ Madisyn Cox among the highlights. Cal got a second, unexpected swimmer into the B final with Caroline Piehl posting a 1:57.20 for the 15th seed. Georgia’s next-bext swimmer, Annie Zhu, was 19th, almost matching her best time. Texas A&M’s Erica Dittmer added two seconds and slid out of the scoring, which hurts A&M.
Women’s 50 free – prelims
Arizona senior Margo Geer is the defending NCAA Champion in the 50 free, and while the rest of the field in this event has stepped their proverbial games up this season, so too has Geer. She swam a lifetime best in prelims with a 21.53 for the top seed, and in fact was the top seed by a relatively large margin considering it’s the 50.
Next to her in finals will be Georgia freshman Olivia Smoliga (21.81) and Wisconsin junior Ivy Martin (21.83).
Georgia’s Maddie Locus gave the Bulldogs their expected two scorers into the A-final, and was followed by a tie between Pac-12 rivals Kasey Carlson of USC and Maddy Schaefer of Stanford in 21.92. That makes three in the A-final from the Pac-12 and three in the A-final from the SEC.
Tennessee’s Faith Johnson is the 7th seed in 21.96, and 8th was a tie between Texas’ Ellen Lobb and San Diego State’s Anika Apostalon in 22.01.
For those keeping score, that means Apostalon will have two swimoffs to do – she was involved in the tie for 16th in the 200 free relay. That means she could be swimming as many as six 50 frees on Thursday.
Taking a 22.01 to make the A-final, there’s some big names into the B final of this race. Texas A&M’s Lili Ibanez is 10th, Florida Gulf Coast’s Emma Svensson is 11th in 22.09, and Stanford’s Lia Neal is 12th 22.12.
update: Anika Apostalon won the swim off.
Women’s 400 Medley Relay – prelims
The Texas A&M women, lurking quietly in College Station all year long, have assembled one of the best medley relays in NCAA history, and they showed that in prelims with a 3:28.47 that was fewer than four tenths away from the NCAA Record. The team was Paige Miller (51.15), Breeja Larson (57.50), Caroline McElhany (52.08), and Lili Ibanez (47.74).
Ibanez’s split was a great split for her, but what’s really exciting is that the first three swimmers on this relay have all been faster on a flat-start. The NCAA Record is on notice, because in all four prelims-finals relays, A&M was faster in finals than they were in prelims at last year’s NCAA Championship meet. The difference will be how Breeja handles a much, much busier schedule this year with three first day swims as compared to her usual one.
Virginia had some day 1 ups-and-downs, but they ended the session on a very high note, rebreaking their own school and ACC Record in the 400 medley relay with a 3:29.42 for the 2nd seed. That included a 50.95 backstroke from Courtney Bartholomew and a 58.13 breaststroke from freshman Laura Simon.
Florida was the only other team under 3:30 in prelims with a 3:29.67 on the strength of a 47.20 anchor for Natalie Hinds. That’s the fastest anchor among all of the A-final teams (though Margo Geer was a 46.75 to close for Arizona, who are 10th).
Georgia sits 4th in 3:30.13, with Smoliga leading off in 51.41. Stanford was 5th in prelims in 3:30.31 with a good, balanced relay, and USC was 6th including a 57.94 from Kasey Carlson.
Cal is the 7th seed in 3:30.93, which is close on seed but a seven-tenths cushion made it not all that close. They used Cindy Tran, Marina Garcia, Sophia Batchelor, and Missy Franklin. Franklin will likely remain the anchor in finals, but we could see Liz Pelton and Rachel Bootsma join that relay in finals, which still makes them contenders for the title and the NCAA Record. Garcia was a 1:00.20 on the breaststroke.
Tennessee, the defending champions, sit 8th in 3:31.52; Molly Hannis split a 59.18 on their breaststroke leg.
Indiana (3:31.52), Arizona (3:32.76), and Texas (3:32.91) sit atop the B final.
Women’s 1-Meter Diving